Wine is losing some of its allure in France
Catherine Kabla likes a good meal - without wine. ''It's unhealthy,'' she says. ''I just drink a glass or two on special occasions. . . . Water's just fine.''
Catherine Kabla's drinking habits signal a social revolution among the young in France. Wine is traditionally consumed here at lunch and dinner, as well as at the local cafe for business as well as pleasure.
Back in the 1950s, Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France's campaign to make his countrymen switch to milk was laughed out of town. And young French people today still drink little milk - a beverage Catherine calls ''disgusting.''
But unlike their parents, France's younger generation is now consuming more water than wine with meals. A new study put out by the National Institute for Agricultural Research shows that the average annual wine consumption here has dropped from 120 to 80 liters over the past 20 years.
Part of the decrease is due to the work of a commission set up nearly 30 years ago by Mr. Mendes-France. It has promoted a vast anti-alcohol educational effort and pushed through parliament several important measures.
Serving alcoholic drinks to minors under 14 is now forbidden. Construction of cafes near schools is also severely restricted.
The new study shows that most young Frenchmen believe wine is bad - not good - for their health. It also points to the growth of cities and a boom in athletics as reasons for the decline in wine consumption. Office workers drink little wine at lunch. Alcohol and tennis are seen as a bad mix.
''Our way of life and work is becoming more and more incompatible with the twice-daily consumption of an alcoholic beverage,'' write the authors of the study, Daniel Boulet and Jean Huguet.
But all this is not to say that the French are no longer heavy drinkers. According to Health Ministry statistics, the annual intake of pure alcohol here is 16 liters a head, the highest in Europe. Italians and Germans drink 20 percent less. The British 50 percent less.
Alcoholism remains a national malaise. Government statistics classify some 2 million adults as alcoholics and 3 million more as excessive drinkers. Nearly 40 percent of men being treated in hospitals are alcoholic cases.
''We have the alcoholism of the Latin countries,'' explains Jeanine Royer, responsible for alcoholism studies at the Health Ministry. ''In Anglo-Saxon countries, one drinks heavily - but mostly on weekends. Here one drinks every day, slowly getting drunk, and that's more dangerous.''
What appears to be happening is that this ''Latin'' mentality toward drinking is being replaced by an ''Anglo-Saxon'' one. Drinking has become a special occasion. And when they drink, Frenchmen now sip more expensive wine - and imported hard liquors.
Gerard Rousselet, marketing director for France's No. 1 wine retailer, Nicolas, reports that sales of hard liquors are rising steadily, as are those of beer and aperitifs. But he also says that nonalcoholic drinks such as fruit juice and soda pop have become popular.
Still, fruit juice and soda pop are expensive here, nearly twice the price of a table wine. This forces most people wary of wine to substitute faucet water.